Beau Travail

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Beau Travail
Beau Travail poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Claire Denis
Produced by Patrick Grandperret
Written by Claire Denis
Jean-Pol Fargeau
Starring Denis Lavant
Michel Subor
Music by Charles Henri de Pierrefeu and Benjamin Britten
Cinematography Agnès Godard
Edited by Nelly Quettier
Distributed by Pyramide Distribution
Release date
  • 1999 (1999)
Running time
90 minutes
Country France
Language French, Italian, Russian
Box office $570.000[1]

Beau Travail (pronounced [bo tʁa.vaj], French for "good work") is a 1999 French movie directed by Claire Denis that is loosely based on Herman Melville's 1888 novella Billy Budd. The movie is set in Djibouti, where the protagonists are soldiers in the French Foreign Legion. Parts of the soundtrack of the movie are from Benjamin Britten's opera based on the novella.

Plot summary[edit]

The film begins with the silhouettes of soldiers being made to stand in the sun as an endurance test. It is the memory of Chief Adjutant Galoup (Denis Lavant), from his new home in Marseille, where he writes his memoirs. He remembers the heat of Djibouti, where he led his section of men under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Bruno Forestier (Michel Subor). We see numerous training scenes: assault courses; and securing of buildings. Much of the exercise has a ballet-like quality. This is set against a back-drop of traditional Djibouti life of the surrounding local people. Galoup says of Forestier: I admired him without knowing why. He retains a wristband with the word Bruno.

Galoup has a beautiful, young local girlfriend, Rahel.

Forestier envies many things in Galoup, including his clear affection from the men. However, they happily socialise together, playing chess and snooker.

One day, his section is joined by Gilles Sentain (Grégoire Colin), whose physical beauty, social skills, and fortitude make Galoup envious. Repressed homosexual feelings from Galoup are suggested.

When Sentain helps another soldier being punished by digging a large hole in the heat of the day, by handing him a canteen of water, Galoup chastises Sentain and knocks the water from his hand. Sentain strikes Galoup. The sergeant has already sworn to destroy him. As a punishment, he drives Sentain out into the desert to make him walk back to the base. But Sentain does not return because Galoup has tampered with his compass, and the soldier is lost without it. When Sentain fails to return Galoup accuses him of desertion.

We see Sentain collapse in the arid salt flats. His salt-encrusted compass is spotted by fellow legionnaires at a sale of local salt-encrusted novelties and is believed to prove Sentain is dead. However, Sentain is found by local tribespeople who place him on a bus. We are not told, but he is clearly now safe, and going to live.

However, on the assumption that Galoup has either killed or tried to kill Sentain, Galoup is sent back to France by his commander for a court martial. It ends his career in the Foreign Legion, his only real love. We see him immaculately make his bed then lie on top clutching a pistol. He is going to shoot himself. The final scene, a lively acrobatic solo dance to Eurodance music, is a flashback from an earlier point in the film when Galoup and the Legion have a night out in Djibouti.



In an interview, Denis said, "One of the cast had actually been in the Legion, so we took all their real exercises and did them together every day, to concentrate the actors as a group. We never said we were going to choreograph the film. But afterwards, when we started shooting, using Britten's music, those exercises became like a dance."[2]


The film was highly acclaimed in the United States, topping the Village Voice's Film Critics' Poll in 2000, with Claire Denis also placing at #2 for best director.[3] Jonathan Rosenbaum of the Chicago Reader rated it a "masterpiece," giving it the paper's highest rating of four stars.[4] Charles Taylor of wrote that "Beau Travail is the most extreme example of [Denis'] talent, baffling and exhilarating. I don't know when I've seen a movie that is in so many ways foreign to what draws me to movies and still felt under a spell."[5] Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave it the magazine's highest rating, calling it "unique and unforgettable."[6] J. Hoberman of the Village Voice wrote that the film is "so tactile in its cinematography, inventive in its camera placement, and sensuous in its editing that the purposefully oblique and languid narrative is all but eclipsed."[7]

The review aggregator website, Metacritic, gave the film a score of 91, which they characterized as "universal acclaim."[8]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Interview: Claire Denis and Beau Travail, Daily Telegraph, 16 August 2003
  3. ^ Village Voice
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ J. Hoberman, "Review: Beau Travail", Village Voice
  8. ^ Beau Travail,

External links[edit]